State of the Union

In 1995, the States Reorganisation Commission Report said: “The decision to create the state of Andhra and the events leading to it have precipitated matters. Even without this decision, so long as the political parties stand committed to the policy of reorganisation, further deferment of a general reorganisation might lead to more dissatisfaction”.

History is repeating itself. The Telangana agitation has been with us for over six decades. The NDA and BJP governments wooed the support of the TRS of Chandrasekhara Rao and ditched him. When Rao almost died (Potti Sriramalu actually died fasting for Andhra), the Centre announced willingness to create a Telangana state.

There was no widespread consultation, nor preparation, or concern for the consequences within Andhra where Hyderabad has had much investment from Rayalseema and coastal Andhra. The turmoil in Andhra was avoidable.

Bombay case

In 1955 the SRC, wanted Bombay as a state by itself. Reasons: in Bombay Marathi was spoken only by 43.6 per cent of the population, Bombay was by itself a well-administered city, its financial resources were huge, the surplus supported Marathi and Gujarati speaking areas, it was a very cosmopolitan and commercial city. But riots followed and Bombay was given to Maharashtra. Maharashtra over 50 years later is among the poorest Indian states, home to the largest number of urban poor in the country, attracts less investment than before, Marathi speakers eye with envy the prosperity of the many non-Marathi speakers in Bombay (say Mumbai or suffer violence!), there are demands for job reservations for the ‘Marathi manoos’, Mumbai has become a cash cow for funding the rest of the state, unbridled corruption at the highest political levels is at the cost of the city’s infrastructure and other facilities, and far from becoming a Shanghai it is one of the worst cities in India today to live and work in.

The contrast between Mumbai and Bangalore, the two cities that the SRC had problems deciding upon, is striking. In 1955 as now, Bangalore was not a majority Kannada speaking city as Mumbai was not a majority Marathi speaking city. Bangalore was surrounded by Kannada speaking districts. SRC gave it to Karnataka. It is today what Mumbai was in 1955, an increasingly cosmopolitan city with the best brains from all over India flocking to Bangalore to study and work in its knowledge-based companies, research institutions and in education. Mumbai has seen violence to confirm its position as a Marathi speaker’s city. Bangalore has never had the kind of language violence against non-Kannada speakers, (even when there were agitations against Tamil films for non-language reasons), as has Mumbai. There is no agitation for jobs in Bangalore only for Kannadigas. People from other states are not made to feel unwelcome and fear for their lives as is happening increasingly in Mumbai. In Mumbai the Legislature erupts into violence if a language other than Marathi is used. Bombay with the help of the Marathi zealots is trying hard to become a non-Indian city.

The Telangana decision has revived movements for splitting other states. This will gather momentum. Government will inevitably create another SRC sooner or later, something both NDA and UPA governments avoided for so many years. We will get smaller states soon with little disruption, or later with great economic and human loss. The longer the dither in creating a new SRC and deciding on small states, the more violent the agitations for smaller states will be.

Hopefully, the new SRC will have a better set of criteria than language alone as with the first SRC. The object must now be to break existing large states into smaller ones and to develop criteria for doing so.

Chandigarh example

Punjab and Haryana had a similar dispute as with Hyderabad between the Telangana to come, and the residual Andhra. Giving Bombay to Maharashtra created parochial violence. Chandigarh as a Union Territory and a common capital for both states has worked well and the city has prospered. So will Hyderabad if it becomes a Union Territory, capital of Telangana and if possible, also of Andhra.

The issue now is about the present disparate sized Indian states. Reorganisation is overdue. It must be based on rational parameters. These could be the range of population, number of administrative units (districts), common bonds over the state, geographical wholeness, a common hinterland to its major cities, common water linkages, adequate present or potential tax revenues to minimise dependent on Central handouts, a state domestic product that is not over dependent on one sector, universities within the boundaries, etc. Principles for reorganisation need careful thought before being applied.

As states become more equal in size we will see changes in our political system. Hindi speaking states may not dominate Indian politics as states forge common bonds with other that are similar, even with different languages. Himachal, Goa, Haryana, Punjab, even Chattisgarh and Jharkhand have done relatively better as small states. Regional parties may move from being one-state parties to multi-state, and more national. Ganging up on the basis of community and religion may be more difficult. The time has come for reorganising Indian states rationally, and soon, before agitations divert our focus from inclusive growth and better governance.

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